Okan craft jazzy, heady grooves informed by Afro-Cuban culture and a world of sound | Concert Preview | Chicago Reader

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Okan craft jazzy, heady grooves informed by Afro-Cuban culture and a world of sound

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Toronto group Okan make heady, jazzy, superbly crafted music driven by two virtuosos born in Cuba’s cultural capitals: violinist Elizabeth Rodriguez hails from Havana, and percussionist Magdelys Savigne is from Santiago. Rodriguez was a concertmaster for Havana’s Youth Orchestra, and Savigne is trained in orchestral percussion, but since moving to Toronto about five years ago they’ve both honed their chops in a variety of styles, notably with Juno-nominated postrock band Battle of Santiago and Grammy-nominated jazz group Jane Bunnett & Maqueque. Okan, which Rodriguez and Savigny cofounded in 2016, take their name from the word for “heart” or “soul” in the Afro-Cuban religion of Santeria, and their unpredictable tunes flow seamlessly from traditional Cuban beats to jazz to New Orleans-infused grooves to influences from more distant lands—Brazil, Spain, Turkey—that the multicultural fabric of Toronto has brought out in their music. Their group’s vibrant performances include fresh takes on classic Cuban standards as well as original compositions, and they’re marked by Rodriguez’s elegant vocals and masterful violin and Savigne’s rapid-fire Afro-Cuban percussion—her many instruments include batá drums, sacred in Santeria and traditionally taboo for women (though Okan use them in secular pieces). Despite the complexity of their music, Okan never drop the groove, and you can expect happy vibes and much dancing from the crowd.   v

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